The YOSEMITE TERMINAL COMPANY
Clayton J. Guest
Articles1 of incorporation for the Yosemite Terminal Company were filed with W. E. Gallison, county clerk of Mariposa county on May 4, 1907. These articles were essentially the same as most articles of incorporation, that is: the name of company, the place of business, the projected duration of the company and the stockholders and the selected directors. The second article declared the purpose of the corporation was to "carry on and conduct a general hotel, livery, transportation and express business." The second article went on to state that the company would raise, graze, buy and sell live stock such as cattle, sheep, hogs and horses. Also, to construct dams and impound water for the purpose of generating electrical power and irrigation purposes. Even mining and warehousing was a part of the second article.
The initial board of directors of the Yosemite Terminal Company was three. The stockholders choose Messrs. C. F. Neumann, W. Casad, and V. H. Gerard all of Merced to fill these director's seats. These men along with O. W. Lehmer, Charles H. Wright, Bert Young, Grant Nickerson, F. L. Higgins (all important Yosemite Valley Railroad employes), Thomas Prather, Frank Drum, (both capitalists on the board of directors of Yosemite Valley Railroad Company, Drum the president) and Mr. William M. Sell, an Innkeeper from Yosemite Valley, were the principal originators and stockholders of the corporation. Also, Mr. D. K. Stoddard, one of the founders and president of the Yosemite Transportation Company was a major stockholder. Interestingly, each of the directors only owned a single share. The other investors each held 33 or 167 shares apiece.
On May 4, 1907, just eleven days before the first Yosemite Valley Railroad train left Merced, the Mariposa Gazette2 reported Mr. W. M. Sell, who was in charge of accommodations at El Portal had returned from San Francisco, where he had been making arrangements for a camp at El Portal. The camp was considered "a high class camp." It had comfortable tents and sanitary facilities. The camp at El Portal served as an interim solution until the hotel, noted in the articles incorporation was constructed and made ready for occupants. The early YVRR passenger train would leave Merced at two o'clock in the afternoon and arrive at Camp El Portal about six o'clock that evening. The travelers would have dinner, lodging and breakfast at the camp before leaving by horse drawn stage early the next day. The travelers would have the same routine, except in reverse, on the return to Merced and other locations.
Mr. O. W. Lehmer, advised the local newspaper3 ground would be broken for the hotel the second week of August 1907. He reported that the plans for the hotel were complete and accepted. An unnamed San Francisco contractor supervised the construction. He also declared, the construction would probably be completed by November 1, 1907. The main reason to rush the hotel to completion was for the winter travel to the Yosemite Valley, was because the accommodations in the Valley did not have heating appliances (this would make winter travel unsuitable).
The following excerpt of a letter dated September 1, 1907, appeared in the Merced County Sun4:
"The hotel, to be called Hotel at El Portal, will be rather a pretentious structure of three stories, or four with the attic. The main part will be 173 feet long, with two wings running back nearly a hundred feet. The hotel will face the river. In the rear, between the two wings, will be a court with a fountain in the center. It is planned to make this court very attractive with flowers, shrubbery, etc. There will be 100 rooms for guests, and about thirty will be en suite with bath. There will be hot and cold water for every room. The hotel will be strictly modern and will cost about $50,000, exclusive of the furniture. W. M. Sell will be in charge, and his experience and ability in catering to the wants of Yosemite tourists assure the successful management of the hotel. Any of you Merced people who want to experience the novelty of first-class hotel accommodations can do so after December 1st by taking a run to the terminus of the Y. V."
The hotel was on a plateau above, but not far from the YVRR depot. It had wide verandahs on three sides and it must have been a very impressive structure in the narrow Merced River canyon. It was from the hotel that stages departed for the Yosemite Valley.
It advertised superb dining and accommodations for travelers. Also, angling was highlighted by those preparing ads, considering the short distance to the Merced river with its cold and fast flowing water the trout must have been a fisherman's dream. Of coarse there was hiking and horse back riding available to the tourist. Across "the merry, mad Merced" River the tourist could gaze up at the 2000 foot spray of silvery water of Chinquapin Falls. It brochures refereed to the hotel as: "The Hotel of the Gateway to Yosemite. Open the Year Round, A place of Quite Beauty for Rest Seekers, Nature Lovers and Sportsmen."5 They failed to mention that during the summer months there were many rattle snakes in the canyon!
The name of the hotel changed to Hotel del Portal some time shortly after its opening.
In September 1908, Frank Drum and Thomas Prather, the two heaviest investors, in the hotel and Merced river canyon developments, decided to divide their holdings. Frank Drum took over the hotel interest.
In Early September 1913, there was a major cloudburst over El Portal. Three inches of rain fell within an hour. There was considerable damage to property and the railroad tracks covered with mud for over one-half mile. The trains did not have any problems and were able to deliver inbound and pickup outbound passengers. The del Portal Hotel was not that fortunate, it had torrential water rushed through its basement and leaving a massive mess to be cleaned.
In early 1915 David Curry6, owner and operator of Camp Curry in Yosemite Valley, filed a law-suit with the California State Railroad Commission against the YVRR, Yosemite Transportation Company, Southern Pacific and AT&SF. Curry claimed that those companies conspired, by their schedules, to cause visitors to Yosemite National Park to stay at the del Portal Hotel and giving the hotel an unfair advantage for patrons. The Railroad Commission ordered the defendants to implement new schedules so as not to be unfair to the Curry interests. Obviously, this reduced the number guests spending time at the del Portal Hotel.
The Desmond Park Service Company leased the hostelry from the Yosemite Terminal Company in September 1916. At the same time Desmond took over the transportation of passengers to and from the Valley from the Yosemite Transportation Company. At this point, for all practical purposes, the Yosemite Terminal Company ceased to exist.
Within a year of the Desmond people leasing the del Portal the hotel would burn to the ground. The fire ended the luxury accommodations at El Portal. It appraised at $100,000.00 at the time. The hotel was 'replaced' with a much smaller and more modest structure with a lunch counter.
On November 5, 1920, the Yosemite Terminal Company filed an Application for Voluntary Dissolution7. The normal procedures were followed and the application was granted December 13, 1920, in San Francisco. Hence, the Yosemite Terminal Company ended its existence after only 13 years, some of which was the epitome of luxury.
- California Department of State (Corporations).
- Mariposa Gazette, May 4, 1907.
- Merced County Sun, August 2, 1907.
- Merced County Sun, September 6, 1907.
- Hotel Del Portal Brochure.
- California State Railroad Commission, Decision number 2306. 1915
- California Department of Corporations.
© Clayton J. Guest, November 1, 1998